What matters most in life? A nice juicy esl discussion question that is maybe not so easy to answer. Or is it?
The main categories
We could start by exploring the large categories: money, family, health, happiness. Or we could get introspective and think of what, specifically, matters to us. Is it our children’s happiness, staying healthy, leading a full life, paying off our mortgage? It is one of those big questions that can deep and introspective or stay superficial and vague.
Feelings…nothing more than feelings
That’s why I like Denis Prager’s, from PragerU, exploration. He grabs this question with a very pragmatic point of view that leaves everyone, the vague and the introspective, with something to think about.
So then what?
In this esl lesson, we go from a general discussion of our values, to then take a twisty turn into social dilemmas which put our values to the test. Whether you use the handout or not, make sure you take a look at the dilemma scenarios at the end of the document.
Mind Map some of the things you and your students find important
In this list: money, family, health and happiness, which matter most to you?
The video: What Matters Most in Life?, by PragerU
Use this document to collect some of the main ideas in the video
Then, explore the Would you Rather scenarios included in the document.
Or if you prefer to just go right to the questions, here they are:
In your opinion are the following statements true or false?
Money makes you happy
Love makes you happy
Good values make you happy
Why does Prager say that what matters most in life is our values?
Would you rather
Would you rather lose the ability to read or lose the ability to speak?
Would you rather be in jail for a year or lose a year off your life?
Would you rather have an easy job working for someone else or work for yourself but work incredibly hard?
Would you rather always be 10 minutes late or always be 20 minutes early?
Personally, I wanted to be a teacher, a veterinarian, a filmmaker, a programmer, a social worker and then a teacher again. The prospect of choosing one single thing was super hard for me. But choose I did, and I never felt entirely happy doing what I was doing.
Is it possible that we don’t have one true calling? That we have more than one talent? One gift? That is the question that Emilie Wapnick asks her TED audience. She is a self-proclaimed “multipotentialite” which is to say, she has many potential careers and gifts.
I must say I got a little emotional watching this talk. I too am someone who has been constantly looking for my one true thing. Wapnick’s premise of the multipotentialite is a very freeing concept that really got my students thinking and talking (and using lots of job and skills related vocabulary).
Today I am a teacher who programs games, uses film and the web to build materials. Many of my students have alternative learning profiles like dyslexia and executive processing issues. I am considered an informal dog whisperer and on the weekends, I go horseback riding with my two daughters. So, somehow my multi-potentials came to fruition. How about you? When you compare what you wanted to do to and what you chose, did you find room for everything or did you concentrate on a few of your interests?
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
If it changed, why did it change?
Have you changed your areas of interest as you grew older?
Why is it ok for children to have many career paths, but adults must choose one?
The Video: Ted why some of us don’t have one true calling by Emilie Wapnick
Post Video Discussion
You can use this handout to help the students focus their attention on certain areas of the talk. Remember, you can slow the video down and add subtitles if it helps. First, do a Tell Back.
Do you see yourself in Emilie’s concept of mulitipotentialite?
What is the problem of the “narrowly focused life”?
What are some of the problems Emilie encountered (4:00)?
What are the multipotentialite’s “superpowers” (6:30)?
What are the advantages of exploring all our interests?
How are those skills relevant in today’s job market?
I once introduced one of my girlfriend’s to a boy that seemed to be a good match for her. When I asked if things had worked out, she said no. She said he was nice, but he did not seem to have luck. She said it as if ‘luck’ was something you could be born with.
That was such a strange way of looking at luck. It made me realize that this idea can be seen in so many different ways depending on your culture, your beliefs and perhaps your superstitions.
On the one hand, it can open up discussions on gratefulness, positivity and recognizing all the things in our lives that make us feel lucky…our children, our health, various aspects of our lives that make us happy.
But luck can also be explored culturally. For instance, in Japanese mythology, the Seven Gods of Luck are believed to have the power to grant luck. Hinduism, Taoism and Buddhism, also have gods or figures that are believed to bestow luck. I suppose this means that you can believe in luck like you would believe in god. Or that if you are unlucky, it may be because you don’t deserve luck.
In this wordless animated short by Mike Bidinger & Michelle Kwon called Jinxy Jenkins & Lucky Lou, yet another facette of luck is explored. Jinxy is a walking disaster. Every step he takes is laced with misfortune. He is nervous and unhappy all the time. Conversely, Lou is so lucky she seems bored and unchallenged. I will let you watch to see what happens when the two meet.
Do you think you are lucky?
What makes you feel lucky?
Does your culture have any beliefs or superstitions about luck?
The Video: Jinxy Jenkins & Lucky Lou by Mike Bidinger & Michelle Kwon
What actions or event in the movie make the girl (Lou) luck?
What actions or event make the boy (Jinxy) unlucky?
Why do you think Jinxy is so unlucky? Is there anything in his attitude?
Why do you think Lou is so lucky?
What happens when they meet?
Why does Lou seem unhappy about being lucky?
Do you have any examples in your life where luck was important?
Would you be happy if you were as lucky as Lou?
When I taught this lesson, I used this template to collect the answers. Feel free to use it too. I included the results of our discussion in case you need some ideas to prime your discussion.
Let me know in the comments section how it turns out for you.
Are you an introvert, extrovert or ambivert? You probably already know the answer, but wouldn’t you like to check? Organizational Psychologist Adam Grant shares his psycho-quiz on the TED site, which for us ESL practitioners can be transformed into a fantastic interactive reading exercise. I would suggest you pair up your students and ask them to quiz each other rather than simply have them do it individually.
But before jumping into the exercise I want to tell you why I snagged on this question in the first place. Yes, I like to psycho-analyze stuff with absolutely no authority to do so. And yes I love to use frameworks and patterns to help me understand the world better. But more than that, when it comes to spotting an introvert or extrovert or even knowing myself, I think I have it all wrong.
I recently watched a TED talk given by Brian Little which asks “Who are you really: the puzzle of personality,” in which he presents his framework for classifying personality traits. When he got to the extravert/introvert category, his explanation really puzzled me. According to him, I would be a total introvert. Me? I know right! Based on Little’s examples of the behaviours of each of these personalities, I would sway more on the reclusive quiet side.
Are you intrigued yet? So let me link each resource: first the TED quiz and then the TED talk. Let’s see you and your students change perspective…
Are you an introvert or an extrovert?
What are some of the things you love and hate that demonstrate your personality?
The Quiz: Quiz: Are you an extrovert, introvert or ambivert? by Adam Grant
TED talk: Who are you really? The puzzle of personality?
What are the elements in Little’s framework?
Why do you think ‘kindness’ is not part of it?
Do you agree with his descriptions of introverts and extroverts?
Who do you know that fits those descriptions?
What are the advantages/disadvantages of introverts and extroverts?
Do you follow anyone on any social media channels?
One of the newest trends in social marketing is using”influencers” to promote new products. Influencers, as described by the CBC podcast included in this post, are people who have an ‘organic’ following on social media channels like YouTube, Instagram, Facebook or Linkedin. They are people, like you and me, who have gathered an audience of followers because of their ideas.
I guess you could say that it’s not unlike having a hero or a mentor or a model, but I think it is slightly different because they can be anyone and everyone and have complete strangers follow them.
I would like to preface this lesson by saying that the podcast is geared toward a more business English discussion on marketing and sales. But I think it can also feed a more general discussion about the place of social media in our lives as well as critical media literacy. It’s up to you to angle it the way it can work best for you.
Do you have an “influencer”? In other words, someone you trust for wisdom and advice.
Do you follow any social media groups or people?
The podcast uses a lot of business vocabulary, so if you are using this post for a more general discussion, you could skip the listen portion an go right to the questions. Otherwise listen to the podcast (11 min.) to flesh out some of the main ideas and key vocabulary.
What are some of the features of an influencer?
What are some of the dangers of using an influencer to endorse a product?
Why use an influencer instead of traditional advertising?
How do you know that a source or influencer is reliable?
Can you describe what emotions you are experiencing right now? This is the question Tiffany Watt Smith asks her TED audience to sensitize them on how easy or how hard it is to put words on our emotions. This is a fantastic presentation to conjure the vocabulary of emotions and an esl psychology lesson.
Do you think words can really describe how we feel? If you watched the movie Inside Out, or are knowledgeable about the scientific litterature on emotions, you may have heard that emotions have been broken down into 6 basic forms: anger, fear, disgust, happiness, sadness and surprise. The first time I read this, I found it hugely oversimplified. I just couldn’t relate my own personal experience with this. Yet, these basic emotions seem to be the baseline for emotional researchers.
Smith challenges this simple view of emotional language. She looks across different languages and cultures to show the complexity and diversity of the words used to describe how we are feeling. She even suggests that the very existence of these words may allow us to feel things that people in other cultures don’t. She exposes a compelling and thought provoking-idea that words can shape how we feel. Before you start, be sure to download the Google docs included in this post. It has a preliminary list of emotions vocabulary words.
What emotion words do you know?
Do you think you are good at talking about how you feel?
The Video: TED The History of Human Emotion Discussion by Tiffany Watt Smith
I would break this presentation down into a series of snippets and begin by doing Tell Backs of each segment. In fact, if you have more basic students, I would stop at the 6 min mark and center a discussion on the vocabulary of emotions. However, for more advanced learners, I would go through the presentation as it digs much deeper into the topic of the history of emotions and may be very engaging for higher-level discussions.
What emotions does Smith talk about?
Can you give some examples of the emotional language of other cultures?
What stuck with you in Smith’s presentation?
Do you have words in your native language that describe feelings that don’t exist in English?
How are emotions viewed in your culture? Do you talk about them, or not?
What, according to you, is emotional intelligence?
Do you knit, run, read, eat, garden? Hobbies are acticities that we do for the sheer pleasure of doing them. They help us take time for ourselves. Whether they are sports related or a more relaxing activity, a hobby is something to enjoy. In other words, when you have given them a bit of time, you feel recharged and happy–as opposed to guilty or tired.
Personnally, I have more hobbies than I probably should. I love relaxing. I knit, paint, garden, cook, take long walks with my dog, read and write blogs. In fact, my hobbies help me channel a lot of creative energy. My husband on the other hand uses hobbies like obsesive video game playing to expell his stress. I’m not sure that it works though.
Moreover, not everybody nutures hobbies. In fact, in many cultures hobbies can be viewed as lazy or a waste of time–something you do when you are children or you want to avoid ‘real’ work. What do you think? Are hobbies healthy or a waste of time? In this Huffington Post article, the author develops the idea that there are good and not so good hobbies.
Is failure always a bad thing? I think we all know the answer to that. However, whether consciously or unconsciously, the fear of failure might be telling us a lot about who we are and how we can turn that fear into a constructive element in our lives. If you are in the mood for an introspective discussion, watch author Elizabeth Gilbert (“Eat, Pray, Love”) talk about what failure has done for her.
Do a tell back of the main points in Gilbert’s presentation.
Are there elements in Gilbert’s presentation that relate to your life?
Do you have successes and failures that have marked your life?
How have your successes and failures defined your path? In other words, where might you be today if things were different?
Do you have an activity that you love more than anything that transcends the need to succeed or the fear of failure?
Experience is a funny thing. When we don’t have it, we don’t always know it. We are in a state of “blissful ignorance.” What is blissful about ignorance you ask? Well mainly that we can go around judging things with a feeling of superiority and mastery.
Let’s consider a concrete example…
Ever stroll through the aisles of the supermarket, quietly contemplating dinner plans and peacefully reading labels only to be violently yanked out of your reverie by a screaming child? You know what I am talking about: the epic supermarket toddler meltdown. Oh yes, they cry they scream, either they want out, they want in. For goodness sake, what do they want?
I admit it, I judged the parents of those children. But now that I am a mother, I too have been the mother of a screaming toddler. Sometimes I reflect on how my perspective has changed and I feel guilty about my un-empathetic superior thoughts I had about those parents.
This lesson features a funny video about how non-parents see parents. I like the video because it is repetitive enough that students may be able to get the humour. As you may know, understanding humour in a foreign language is rather challenging, so any time I find something that can make people laugh, I like to use it.
But I feel the discussion lies beyond the video. I think it’s about how experience changes us. And how sometimes that very experience can have us looking as crazy as the people on the video.
Rather than have a pre-discussion as a warm up, I would use the video to get prime the participants’ thoughts.
The Video: What Parenting Sounds Like to Non-Parents
Can you think of a ‘before and after’ situation where experience made you change your perspective?
What events in your life (e.g. becoming a parent, changing jobs, moving to a foreign country) have changed the way you think about things?
Can you remember a scene in your life that made you look as crazy and the people in the video?
If you were going to make a video like this one, what would the topic be?
Even though I know how to stand up for myself, it is not my favorite thing to do. It will inevitably cause awkwardness perhaps even anger. I might be perceived and agressive or unreasonable.
Yet, we all have to deal with conflicting view points at some time or another. Perhaps some have to deal with it every day. Heck , some make a career of it.
That’s why I like this article from Thrive Global (Ariana Huffington‘s wellness publication). In it there are practical tips on how to deal with relationship conflict. The article is nicely organized, well supported and each part succinct. It makes for a great Tell Back article and probably a few anecdotes.
How are you with conflict? Are you more a fighter or lover?
Do you have any moments (perhaps not too personal) where you have had to stand up for yourself?
The Article: 9 Ways do Deal with Relationship Conflict
Take each of the 9 points and pull out the main recommendation
Are there any recommendations that you disagree with?
Are there any that you see yourself adopting?
Is there a pattern or something that each recommendation has in common?